In joining the ever-growing marijuana business, rappers have used their cannabis business venture to address the wrongs of the war on drugs against Black people.
“I’ve been charged for possession of pot for, like, one gram, and I’m not allowed to get my green card,” a man named Hamant says in a video titled “Hypocrisy Stories.”
The video is for JAY-Z’s cannabis brand, Monogram, and it is a contrast from the brand’s other, more popular video series “High Tales,” where artists like Jadakiss, N.O.R.E., and Tinashe offer lighthearted — and often times humorous — stories about their experiences with weed. “Hypocrisy Stories” speaks to the hypocrisies of marijuana law in the United States, from Hamant’s possession charge to a man named Jamal addressing the double standard of people capitalizing off the booming marijuana business while police departments across the country continue to lock up people of color for selling.
Underneath being touted as a luxury cannabis brand, Monogram is using its platform to right some of the wrongs of America’s failed war on drugs, while also advocating for cannabis reform and Black people having a stake in marijuana’s profitability as it continues to be legalized throughout the country. But it’s not just Monogram doing this — from Method Man’s TICAL to Lil Wayne’s GKUA Ultra Premium, a handful of weed brands founded by rappers are addressing these issues in different ways.
According to a Marijuana Business Daily survey in 2017, Black entrepreneurs made up only 4.3 percent of all cannabis business owners; white people made up 81 percent of business owners. The discrepancy doesn’t just stem from Black people not having the same resources as their white counterparts, but laws that discriminate largely against Black people and other people of color in comparison to white people. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report revealing that Black people are 3.64 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as white people, despite both consuming cannabis at “roughly equal” rates. Even as states legalize and decriminalize marijuana racial disparities persist, with the ACLU noting that there were more arrests for marijuana in 2018 than in 2015, although several states had either legalized or decriminalized weed in between that time.
For those trying to obtain a cannabis business license, a felony conviction for marijuana possession can disrupt the process, postponing — or possibly deadening — one’s attempt at legally capitalizing off weed. For these cannabis brands founded and owned by rappers, like JAY-Z’s Monogram, the business not only adds some much-needed diversity in the marijuana industry, but is being used to bring other minorities into the industry, too.
In March, The Parent Company — a California-based cannabis company that Monogram is a part of — announced that it was funding a social equity ventures program “to give Black and other minority entrepreneurs equal opportunity for participation in the legal cannabis industry.” Led by JAY-Z (who also serves as The Parent Company’s Chief Visionary Officer) and Roc Nation CEO Desiree Perez, the program “will identify and fund the next generation of cannabis business leaders who are building value for their communities and diversity in our industry.”
Initially funded with $10 million — plus an annual contribution of two percent of The Parent Company’s net income — the program will focus on BIPOC entrepreneurs who’ve been negatively impacted by the war on drugs, and assist both early stage and already operating companies with everything from mentorship and training to supplier and wholesale agreements. Through the program, The Parent Company also plans to invest in — and partner with — BIPOC-owned cultivators, brands, distributors and retailers to build an inclusive supply chain. The program will officially launch in the coming months. Outside the program, the company will be contributing to non-profit organizations engaged in advocacy, criminal justice reform, workforce development, and entrepreneurship support.
Where Monogram has combated the war on drugs and advocated for cannabis reform through its campaigns and social equity ventures program, brands like Lil Wayne’s GKUA have partnered with cannabis criminal justice reform non-profits like the Last Prisoner Project (LPP) to do the same.
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In February, the two started a collaborative campaign called “Share The Love,” where Instagram users were instructed to post a picture to their feed enjoying cannabis alongside a loved one. For every post shared during the campaign, GKUA donated a dollar directly to LPP, with the money being used to free prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent cannabis offenses.
“GKUA is all about music and cannabis, and with the end of federal prohibition inevitable, and access expanding, artists are speaking more openly about how cannabis inspires their work and is part of their lives,” the company said in a statement. “We embrace these social changes and the many conversations surrounding social justice, as we grow as a cannabis and lifestyle brand.”
According to a spokesperson from GKUA, the brand has already donated a few hundred dollars from the campaign, and “is poised to grow that number to the thousands in the coming months, with larger projects in the works.”
Similar to GKUA, Saucey Farms & Extracts — a cannabis brand co-founded by Jim Jones — has also partnered together with non-profits addressing the need for criminal justice reform. In a 2020 interview with Bazinga, co-founder Alex Todd said that Saucey regularly donates to the REFORM Alliance, which aims to transform the criminal justice system. Todd told Okayplayer that he resonated with REFORM not just for what it tries to do but for the people who are a part of the organization as well, with rapper Meek Mill and Philadelphia 76ers co-owner and Fanatics executive chairman Michael Rubin both serving as co-chairman of REFORM Alliance.
“Reform, in general, is very important for Saucey, and plays a big role in my heart,” Todd said. “There’s people that’re wearing suits that have never spent a day in this business grinding… there’s some 40,000 prisoners in jail per plant, when there’s people wearing suits at a board room right now planning on how they’re gonna make billions of dollars for it. So it feels kind of unfair.”
Although Saucey is a relatively new company (it launched in 2019), Todd expressed how important it was for the cannabis brand to support cannabis reform right when it joined the marijuana industry, adding that along with donating to REFORM Alliance, he will also be working with 40 Tons — a Black, woman-owned premium cannabis, clothing, and accessories brand based in LA.
Hip-hop has played an integral part in normalizing cannabis use, helping to quell the assumptions and fears people projected onto the drug, something that Todd spoke to as well.
“You gotta credit the pioneers of this stuff — Cypress Hill, Snoop [Dogg] — some of the people who were at the forefront of showing it and not being scared to put it in their videos and songs,” he said. “Cannabis and hip-hop has always been synonymous.”
Hip-hop has played an integral role in destigmatizing and normalizing marijuana use. For some of these rappers and their cannabis brands, their growing businesses are an extension of that, not only showing how important and necessary it is for Black and other people of color to be integrated into the legal marijuana industry, but helping to redefine the future of what laws surrounding marijuana use look like.